Book Review – Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure”

As photography continues to grow in popularity and practice, more and more beginners are finding themselves spending lots of money on equipment and traveling to places to photograph.  Unfortunately, all too often, a lack of exposure theory and understanding prevent them for making the most of their equipment and time.  I have read many books and articles on exposure and I found one that seems to excel at explaining the concept of exposure.  Bryan Peterson is a well-known photographer from Chicago who has written many books on exposure, hosts workshops all over the world and has had many big name clients.

If you are trying to get a grasp on exposure, I think the best first book might be Bryan’s Understanding Exposure.  This book is in its 3rd edition so make sure you get the latest.  The book is available in both print and digital format and I purchased the digital format.  I have found that not all photography books work in digital format because what is often being described in a photo and the actual photo can be far from each other in digital format.  However, I found that this book did work well in digital format.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird Proper Exposure is the Key!

According to Peterson, “A correct exposure is a simple combination of three important factors: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.”  These three factors are what I call the “trinity” of exposure and Peterson calls them the “photographic triangle.”  One of the best explanations is how the author helps you understand that there can be many correct exposures, but there is just one “creatively correct exposure.”  This is the combination of aperture (f-stop), shutter speed, and ISO that created the desired effect.  If you get cross-eyed when people start discussing f-stops (depth of field), shutter speed, ISO, adding light or subtracting light, and types of lighting then I can honestly say this is the place to start learning.  You have already invested a lot of money on equipment, why not spend a few dollars and get a better understanding of the most important element of photography?

The photo above is a dark bird with a pale background on an overcast day.  Without understanding the interplay of shutter speed, f-stop, ISO and quality of light, this shot probably would have ended up with a very dark bird and no detail in the feathers.